What Do You Do When You Fail?

June 7th, 2010 • Kate

Failure: When Your Best Just Isn't Good EnoughNot to add more harshness to a Monday, but today, I want to talk about failure. In a race, there is one winner, and a bunch of losers. Not everyone can win — despite what’s taught in some schools and pre-Ks lately, where everyone can win just for playing. Now, maybe you’re like me when it comes to racing. I’ve done several 5Ks or similar races — nothing long, nothing too serious — and while I may have run with people who had aims to be the first to cross the finish line, all I wanted to do was not be the last. In my mind, so long as I wasn’t LAST, I’d still “won.”

And so I think we set ourselves lots of little goals, not just big ones. If I can just finish this novel, I’m a writer. If I can write a complete short story… If I finish editing this bit before midnight… And at the end, up there with the Olympians who are done with the 5K before I’ve even hit the first mile marker, if I can sell my novel in a six-figure deal and quit my job to write full time, THEN I’m a writer.

We’re not all going to cross the finish line at the same time. We’re not all going to get that gold medal. But that doesn’t mean the journey isn’t worth it, or that we can’t meet lots of goals along the way.

So you don’t win. Do you give up? I know I don’t. I’ve talked before about my photo project — a picture a day for 2010. Well, I’ve forgotten three times already this year. Do I quit? No! Of course not. I just take another picture and keep moving on.

How do you deal with goals met or missed?

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21 Responses to “What Do You Do When You Fail?”

  1. Rissa Watkins Says:

    I was an accountant in my former life where deadlines had to be met or there were big problems. So when I set a goal for myself, even if it is a word count goal, I tend to beat myself up about missing it.

    I did set myself up with little goals like a daily word count. But I also had a big one, finish my book by a certain date.

    Yes, there were nights I didn't quite make my total, but then other nights I would get a burst of inspiration and double the word count. So I tried not to get too upset about it.

    In the end, I finished my book by my deadline. Editing was my next goal and now, the big race- getting an agent.

  2. Catherine Says:

    One of my goals – more a hope – was to have an agent by my birthday (last week). On the morning of my birthday I opened my email to find the dreaded "pass" from one of the agents who had my manuscript.

    Yes, I realize that might not have been a goal entirely within my control, but still…I really hoped I'd get my birthday wish.

    I didn't cry or think "oh, it's all over". Instead, I figured this gave me another whole year to reach the goal!

    Ok – it did suck that this happened on my birthday….but it did not stop me from working on my current WIP or from believing that some day my first novel will find a home.

    Until then, I will write/revise/write some more and enjoy the journey.

  3. Beth Cato Says:

    Failure hurts. No question. I've had some major struggles in working on my novel, but I haven't given up. Sure, the thought occurred to me–for all of a minute. I can't give up on something I've poured so much of myself into for two years.

    So, I step back. See why I failed. See what I can fix. Then I dive back into work again. As a result, I have a much stronger novel. Is it "there" yet? Probably not. I'm about to send it to be critiqued in full, and meanwhile the beginning chapters are being reviewed on a critiquing site.

    I've learned that it's wiser to have low expectations. Less pride, less ego, the less to get smacked around.

  4. Davy DeGreeff Says:

    Right now I'm just hoping this post wasn't written as an indirect response to the query I sent you last week…

  5. Becky Mahoney Says:

    Like Catherine, I hoped to have an agent by my birthday. Only difference is, my birthday was in March! Seeing as I started querying in February, that was definitely too optimistic of me. Then I hoped to have an agent by graduation, but, well, I'm still looking, and I graduated two weeks ago, so you see how that turned out.

    But even though I didn't graduate with an agent, I got to tell all my relatives that I have two partials and a full out, and they were all as happy for me as if I'd gotten the agent already. And even without the submissions out, my friends are always telling me how proud they are of me for just finishing the book and sending out queries in the first place. I think I'm the type of person who sets unreasonable goals that can't always be met, but when I fall short, I'm surrounded by lovely people who remind me of the other things I've accomplished in the meantime.

    Other than that, I'm big on success-as-revenge. It's probably good that I fail every now and then, because when I do, it makes me work twice as hard to succeed. I wouldn't have accomplished a lot of the things I'm really proud of had I not been motivated by some epic failure.

  6. Kate Says:

    Davy – Since I'm so far behind on my queries, even without looking I can confirm this isn't about you! Actually, it was spurred by my forgetting to take a picture yesterday for my photo project.

  7. Cate Says:

    First it depends on the goals…. and how drastic they are. 🙂

    If this is about rejections –

    I sulk for five minutes and then I get back to work and try again. 🙂

    Ahem… I should point out that doesn't mean I'll send the same query to the same agent in hopes that the agent will have a different opinion of me when I land in a different day's slush pile.

    I've read enough industry blogs and news to know that there is always a reason why a project is turned down, and it isn't always personal or about something that a writer can revise or edit.

    I tend to look at it the same way I look at 'real life' goals.

    Later on this year I'll be entering show trials with my dog. Obedience trials. I want highest scores, rewards, and blue ribbons. I realize there is a chance something VERY WRONG will happen which will disqualify us completely. But at least we can learn from those VERY WRONG things, clean up, and try again.

  8. Davy DeGreeff Says:

    Well that's a relief!

    I have to side with Beth — I think it's much healthier to view most "failures" not as a final result, but as a step back that can guide and give you a chance to figure out where improvements need to be made. Of course this can be a difficult and trying process, but that's why it's important to keep the big picture in mind — concentrate not only on where you fell short, but also on the things you did well along the way.

  9. shannon Says:

    When Thomas Edison was asked why he didn't give up after more than 2000 failed tries at making the filament in a light bulb (he didn't actually invent the light bulb), he said (I'm paraphrasing here) He didn't fail 2000 times. Instead, he found 2000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.

    Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography I was forced to read in college, called his mistakes and failures "errata." My professor said he felt that Franklin was refusing to take personal responsibility for failed attempts at any of his inventions (tries at success).

    I always think of these things when something I try fails. What if Edison had stopped trying at #1999? Would we all be sitting in the dark? What if Franklin took failure personally, would we have electricity?

    I'm not saying I will be the next mind blowing author. Maybe. Hopefully. But, I am only failing myself if I give up.

    Or – I can make my awesome Triple Chocolate Cake and drown my failures in empty calories. That always works too.

  10. Buffy Andrews Says:

    I get back up and try again. And again and again.

    Thought you might enjoy a column I wrote on failing. Here's the link: http://buffyswritezone.blogspot.com/2009/08/we-le

  11. Creepy Query Girl Says:

    Each query rejection is a small failure. I don't take it personally. A rejection on a partial, however, feels like a knife in the gut and it takes a little while to get over it but eventually I do. I pick up my manuscript, resubmit it to critics group, rethink, revise, re-edit and send it off again, hopefully better and more engaging than before. I'll only be a writer if I can build up my endurance and maintain my determination.

  12. Peter Dudley Says:

    There are little goals, big goals, and imperatives.

    A little goal for me this year which failed early was writing one poem a week. I didn't really care if I failed that. I have succeeded with many other little goals.

    A big goal for me this year was to be very successful with my day job. That is going marvelously to date. If that failed, I would dust myself off and try again.

    An imperative is to keep my children fed every day and make sure I don't miss their childhoods as they grow. Failure here is not an option, and all other goals are below this. If I skip writing my poem so I can watch "UP" with them, I don't view that as a failed goal. I view that as successfully avoiding a future regret.

  13. write-brained Says:

    yeah, I'm with creepy query girl. so I'll say ditto!

  14. Amy L. Sonnichsen Says:

    The only way to really fail in this business is to give up completely. But that's easier said than done. Those who have words wrestling in their souls and story lines spinning webs in their brains would have to be heartless to abandon them.


  15. Erika Marks Says:

    I think all of us who write have stories of family members or friends who very innocently responded with news of a manuscript rejection by saying, "Oh, well, at least you put yourself out there" as if that single project was the end of the road. For most of us, one rejected project just means moving on to the next new one. It would never occur to us to quit, frankly.

    Much like dating until you find the love that tops all the rest. You slog through the bad dates, relish the good ones, and keep going after heartbreak.

  16. Karen Says:

    I've set writing goals and missed them by a mile sometimes, sometimes by a minute and sometimes I meet them on target. It hasn't ever been in my thoughts to quit, but like Erika said, I've had family memebers ask me how my book is going and they're talking about the first book I ever wrote (when I was 19 and I'm 37 now) like I shouldn't write anything else since I never published that book. To me, I'll have won when I'm able to have a sustain a writing career.

  17. Suzanne Casamento Says:

    I really enjoyed this post. Your 5K strategy is a little like how I think about writing. I don't need to be super speedy, I just need to do the best I can.

  18. Becky Mahoney Says:

    I think this post may have been prophetic, Daphne! I woke up this morning to a rejection that stung quite a bit.

    What's my plan to deal with it? Work on the WIP today, and enjoy the Glee finale tonight. I think that'll do it.

  19. Rona Mahinay Says:

    Every time I fail, I usually sulk and become hard on myself. I also cry a lot. I sleep a lot. I forget my diet and eat a lot. Then, when I am done with all these routinary process of failing, I get back on my feet and move on. And I feel great… I just had a vacation because I failed.:D

  20. Meredith Says:

    I just now saw this, and — wow — talk about good timing. Thank you for this post, and another big thank you to all of the people who commented about how to handle failures. After realizing yesterday that my WIP does not and will not work the way it is now, I was feeling mighty discouraged. Now, after reading all of this, I'm feeling better. Ok, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't still feeling a little discouraged, but I'm in a better state than I was 10 minutes ago, that's for sure!

    Back to the drawing board, er, I mean daunting Word document…

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